Red Tailed ParrotHere are some quick facts to get you acquainted with this pretty bird…
Flapping around the skies of Southern Brazil, there is a cute little parrot catching the eye of both Brazilian and international communities alike. This brightly colored bird has become a symbol of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest on the coastline of Paraná and southern São Paulo State. The Red-Tailed Parrot is endemic to this area, which means there is nowhere else on the planet where the parrot can be found in the wild. At first glance, it is a little difficult to understand where this mostly green parrot gets its name. Besides the green, there is a little red on its head and a splattering of purple, pink, and blue here and there. The tail even sports a splash of yellow! But, look closely, and beneath the yellow indeed you will see a small red patch. One should not underestimate this small patch, for when it is time for the male bird to impress the lady parrots, he shows off the red band on the underside of his tail to stir up some action.
Natural-Born Commuter. The Red-Tailed Parrot knows what it likes. It is a natural born commuter who enjoys days spent foraging for food along the coast of mainland Brazil. It prefers nice juicy fruit, but will also nibble on flowers, leaves and seeds, and will also sip some nectar or gobble up the unsuspecting insect or worm hiding out inside a piece of fruit. Once tummies are full for the day, the entire population heads back to select coastal islands where they settle in for some sleep. There are 4 main islands where the Parrot will spend the night, Superagüi, Ilha Comprida, Ilha do Mel, Ilha Pinheiro, and Ilha Pinheirinho.
The evening commute back to the island can be a raucous affair, as the birds squawk and quibble with each other, jostling to get the best spot on the palm tree. This pattern of morning and evening migrations is unusual in the parrot family and the practice creates a spectacle that draws multitudes of tourists to the area, hoping to catch a glimpse of this rare bird. Breeding also takes place in the area on Ilha Rasa, the designated breeding spot between the months of September and February. The Red-Tailed Parrot builds its nest in a palm tree, and if all goes well, returns to the same site year after year.
Habitat Loss. Unfortunately, not everything is looking rosy for this purplish-cheeked bird. The Red-Tailed Parrot’s habitat is restricted to a small strip between Rio de Janiero and Curitiba. This is also an area that many Brazilians like to call home, and inevitably, urban expansion and the clearing of land for agricultural purposes have taken a toll on the natural ecology. All of this leads to habitat loss as the native rainforest is broken up into smaller and smaller chunks.
Illegal Animal Trade. Yet while this has made things difficult for the parrot, the biggest threat to the bird’s existence has come from the illegal animal trade. According to the World Wildlife Fund, animal trafficking is one of the largest illegal operations going on in the world, third behind the drugs and arms trades. In Brazil alone, the illegal animal trade is a $1.5 billion “industry.” None of this bodes well for the Red-Tailed Parrot, which is thought to be a desirably exotic pet by collectors, due to its good looks. The bird’s isolated breeding grounds, which became well known in the 1970’s, make it an easy target for trappers looking to steal baby birds. A study conducted between 1990 and 1994 showed that out of 47 nests that were recorded, 41 were robbed. Once baby birds are stolen, 9 in 10 die during transportation due to cruel conditions or simply from fright. Populations fell to their lowest numbers between 1991 and 1992, when there were fewer than 2,000 left in the wild.
conservation Efforts. Since then, actions have been taken to help save the struggling parrot. The Environmental Education Program for the conservation of the Red-Tailed Amazon Parrot was started by the Institute for Ecological Research (IPÊ), a Brazilian NGO near São Paulo. The program focuses efforts on the Superagüi National Park, located on the island where the majority of the birds live. It includes working with local people, students, and tourists to further their understanding and appreciation of this unique species. Additionally, The Red-Tailed Amazon Parrot Conservation Project, started by the Society for Wildlife Research & Environmental Education (SPVS, another local NGO based in Curitiba), is involved in studying the bird’s behavior and keeping an eye on the population numbers. Maybe even more importantly, SPVS also provides guards for the parrot’s sleeping grounds, sometimes patrolling around the islands on boats to keep traffickers from approaching the parrots.
The Red-Tailed Parrot has become a symbol of conservation efforts in the Serra do Mar and the coastal Atlantic Rainforest, also known as Floresta Atlântica. Translating as the “Mountains of the Sea,” the Serra do Mar stretches for 1,500 kilometers along the Brazilian coast, from Espírito Santo in the north to Santa Catarina in the south. Before European settlement, this area was covered with the rich biomes of the Atlantic Rainforest and brimming with biodiversity. Unfortunately, this is the most heavily populated part of the country, encompassing two of the world’s largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janiero. As a result, forces of urbanization, pollution, industry and agricultural development have left only 7% of this unique ecosystem intact. A series of biological reserves, national and state parks have been created to protect the remaining forest. The largest and best-preserved piece is located in the state Paraná, the same area where the Red-Tailed Parrot lives and Novo Fogo makes its cachaça.
A Conservation Leader on Its Own. The parrot plays an unusually important role within this environment by moving seeds between the mainland and the coastal islands through its poop… Yes, the red-tailed pooping is considered one of the most important ways to promote biological diversity in the Serra do Mar.
Caring for Our Neighbors. While the Red-Tailed Parrot is still listed as vulnerable by the IUNC, things are looking hopeful. Due to conservation efforts, numbers have now rebounded to around 6,600 individuals and most of the nesting and breeding areas are in protected parks. With growing awareness and pride, the Red-Tailed Parrot is making a comeback. We, here at Novo Fogo, are definitely rooting for it. That best-preserved area of the Atlantic Rainforest also happens to be right up the mountain behind our sugar cane fields; as neighbors, we feel responsible for getting the word out that the Red-Tailed Parrot deserves to be noticed not in a birdcage, but in the wonderful and unique environment of the Atlantic Rainforest that the bird calls its home.
We hope he will be shaking his tail feathers for centuries to come!
To make a contribution towards the efforts to protect the Red-Tailed Parrot, please write to us or check out the organizations working to protect the bird: Society for Wildlife Research & Environmental Education (SPVS), Institute of Ecological Research (IPÊ), and the Chester Zoo (this UK zoo has a successful breeding program for the Red-Tailed Parrot and offers animal “adoptions”).
Links for highlights:
Chester Zoo: http://www.chesterzoo.org
Also watch a video documenting a nest of baby parots, filmed by our friend Luciano Breves, working with SVPS: http://bit.ly/2p6NU6.